This blog has been created for my undergraduate Civil Rights and Rhetoric course. It is meant to identify and analyze rhetorical responses to Constance McMillen's struggle to attend prom with her girlfriend and the ensuing political and social conflicts. These responses will be pulled from traditionally "non-academic" sources. Everyday people engage in rhetoric, too--and now you can study some of their banter on social media websites!
If we’re talking about high school, what’s with all the pictures and language about babies?
Interestingly, these seem to be attacks on Constance’s character and motives (over dramatic, seeking attention), rather than direct and logical responses to her arguments. These are called ad hominem attacks. Translated directly, ad hominem means “to the man” or “against the man.” According to this one website,
An Ad Hominem is a general category of fallacies in which a claim or argument is rejected on the basis of some irrelevant fact about the author of or the person presenting the claim or argument. Typically, this fallacy involves two steps. First, an attack against the character of person making the claim, her circumstances, or her actions is made (or the character, circumstances, or actions of the person reporting the claim). Second, this attack is taken to be evidence against the claim or argument the person in question is making (or presenting).
Using this image, in combination with the “Constance quit yer cryin” title, it is clear that the administrator of this Facebook is likening Constance to a whiny infant. One of the most comment arguments that I’ve seen by Itwamba county locals (and you can read so many of their comments on Facebook) is that Constance’s claims are illegitimate because she is attention-seeking and making a big fuss over what isn’t a big deal. They are trying to take away from the power of her arguments by claiming that she is being over-dramatic and protesting in a childish manner, thus the comparison of her to a baby. A common retaliation to this attack is that, even if Constance is immature, whiny, and attention-seeking, it was still wrong for the school board to cancel prom in response to her desire to attend it in a tux with her girlfriend.
Okay, I’ll be honest: I found this video to be pretty humorous. I think much of the humorous value in this video comes from the shock of such a childish cartoon (sing-song voice, animation, simplistic rhyming, name calling) being used to address a controversial issue that is generally entrenched in heated and serious debate.
According to the rhetorician Quintilian, humor “frequently diverts the audiences attention from the facts of the case.” It also “refreshes members of the audience and revives them when they have begun to be bored or wearied.”
In this way, it can stir up sentiments in viewers (“Yeah! Stupid school!”) without drawing much attention to actual facts. There are many blanket and childish statements, like the school is acting like a “stink bomb” and the school is “dumb.” Because these are humorous terms, they draw away from the necessity to elaborate on facts. For instance, in an academic piece, one would probably be more inclined to ask, “Hey, what do you MEAN the school doesn’t put students first? What students? Who says?” But, in this video, audience members are more likely just to giggle and cheer, then move on.
The video also reframes the debate in a way that makes people laugh, giving more energy to a topic that has received so much press that is in danger of growing “old” and losing steam.
So, I’ve definitely been noticing a number of allusions to the Holocaust in all of the recent dialogue around McMillen. I found this image posted up on the “Constance quit yer cryin'” page. The photograph depicts homosexual prisoners of the Nazi Holocaust. They are dressed in prisoners’ garbs and each identified with a label and number. The poster of the image included a list translating common Nazi symbols for persecuted groups. At the top, the poster of the image wrote: “Pink triangle – gays.”
In general, references to the Holocaust have been made primarily by protestors of the school’s discriminatory stance towards student homosexuality. The image clearly aligns homosexuals with the oppressed prisoners and consequently aligns those defending the school district with the Nazis, oppressors of the Holocaust. These references are a way of demonizing the school district defenders. They usually suggest that 1) discriminating against homosexuals in schools is akin dehumanizing and imprisoning them 2) denying gay rights in schools is the beginning of a slippery slope which leads to terrible consequences, such as the Holocaust. As no one–except for extreme racists–wants to be associated with Nazis, these allusions and images are meant to dissuade others from support the school’s disciminatory actions.
If you browse the “Constance quit yer cryin” Facebook fan page, you see a number of images alluding to Christ. Much of the opposition to gay rights is argued on moral and religious grounds, and defenders often respond along the same themes. I added this image as an example. Clearly, it is a critique of the parents, officials, and students in opposition to Constance’s attempts to attend her senior prom, dressed in a tux and with her girlfriend in tow.
The breakdown is this: The rainbow flag waving in the background image is emblematic of the LGBTQ movement. The image of a man on the left is a pictorial representation of Christ, who is drawn with soft features and omniscient eyes that gaze into the distance. The font is legible but bold and messy, suggesting creativity and youth, which speaks to the Facebook demographic. The depicted question, when applied to this case, is clearly meant to suggest that those who support Constance are people who “love”; whereas, those who do not support Constance—and are, consequently, against gay rights—are people who “hate.” This image is a moral argument and religious argument, splitting people into two distinct groups: the good and loving supporters who will be favored by God, and the hateful non-supporters who will consequently be damned by Him.